21st Century Reviews

You liked Roaring Jack, you might like some of the recent releases reviewed here!

16 June 2010

Ciaran Murphy - Once Upon A Time In Ireland (self-released, 2009)

The Police Service of Northern Ireland proudly claims to be 'Making Northern Ireland Safer'. They'll have you believe that they've moved on from the notorious days of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Belfast-based singer-songwriter Ciaran Murphy knows differently. His latest release opens with a blistering attack on Northern Ireland's police: 'And they're still a rich man's police force, they serve a rich man's state / They'll baton charge the workers on the orders of the great / They'll use their fathers' weapons to move against the free / They'll always be the RUC to me'.

Armed only with an acoustic guitar and a strong singing/shouting voice, Murphy comes across sometimes as a one-man punk band. His songs cover a multitude of topics relating to life in Ireland (and in Northern Ireland in particular).

‘A Word to the New Irish Racist’ damns those Irish people who have suffered racist attitudes from British imperialists for decades, and who themselves now target new arrivals into Ireland: ‘And every one of us were immigrants in our own time / And every patriot knows Irish is a state of mind / But you’re blind’. Brilliant sentiments that just as easily apply to Australians as to Irish. Ciaran Murphy plays with such fury that he must spend a fortune on new guitar strings. It’s not all full-on acoustic thrash, though. Some of the more impressive moments happen when the guitar assault slows down a little. Check out the gorgeous multi-tracked guitars on ‘Rebel Song', while Ciaran spins a tale about a would-be terrorist having second thoughts while on the way to an attack. The guitar picking on ‘You Cried for Ten Men Dead’ is simply outstanding. This track never fails to leave me in tears, as Murphy sings to his father about the impact of Ireland’s struggle on the old man. From fighting for Great Britain in World War II, to joining a revolutionary army in Ireland, to crying for the ten hunger strikers who died in the Maze prison in 1981. The old man fell under the spell of whiskey and was unable to keep it together. The title track closes the album, with its multi-tracked guitar and one of Ciaran Murphy’s strongest vocal efforts. It tells of Murphy’s quest for that elusive ‘once upon a time in Ireland’, coming to terms with Ireland’s real and mythological past, and sifting through the past to find lessons that apply to Ireland today. While Ciaran Murphy’s 2008 debut, The Verbal Hand Grenade EP, was a solid release, this one shows Murphy has made infinite progress. Each song features just acoustic guitar and voice, but Murphy creates so many different textures that no two songs sound alike. The beauty of the folk tradition – and it applies equally in punk rock – is that anybody can pick up an instrument and play the songs that strike a chord in them. Ciaran Murphy’s songs need to be heard, and they need to be sung. They should be up there with the songs of Bob Dylan, Billy Bragg and Alistair Hulett, to be brought out and sung whenever the need arises.

I can’t recommend this album highly enough.

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09 June 2010

The Vandon Arms - The Sent Off EP (self-released, 2010)

I've promoted this one to the top of the pile, so that I can get the review out there in time for the World Cup! The Vandon Arms hail from Des Moines, Iowa, and usually play a highly competent brand of Celtic punk in the manner of Flogging Molly and the Dropkick Murphys. This recently released EP is a bit of a departure. Most of the songs are in more of a streetpunk style, and as the cover suggests, the dominant theme is football (soccer). Three of the six tracks are humourous takes on being a football fan, and the closing track 'Over There' is a potential anthem for the U.S. national team (though its riff sounds suspiciously like the one from 'Vindaloo'). I can really relate to 'My Football Team's Got Me Drinkin'', a lament for a lovable losing team over a stomping Ramones-y beat.

It's not all full-on punk, though. Even the noisier tracks tend to have traditional instruments shining through. And there are two traditional tunes that are played in great spirits and with the acoustic instruments cranked up. These two are not really football songs, but they're both famous for being sung at football grounds. 'The Blaydon Races' is an old Geordie song that's popular on the terraces at Newcastle United matches. And the rollicking 'Miss O'Leary' is a big hit among Chicago Fire supporters: 'Late last night while we were all in bed / Miss O'Leary left a lantern in the shed / When the cow tipped it over she winked her eye and said / There'll be a hot time in the old town tonight / Fire Fire Fire!'

This won't be everyone's cup of tea, but if you're into football, folk, punk and drunken singalongs, you might find it as appealing as I do.

Available through iTunes and MySpace Music.

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02 June 2010


In January this year, I made a long list of all the albums I wanted to feature in 21st Century Reviews. A week later, the shocking news of Alistair Hulett's passing blew everything away. It's been a crazy time, and I hope to have a bunch of reviews up soon!